My personal favourites from 2012 by Neil Alexander

Having let the dust settle on the images I made late last year up in the Lake District, it's time to trawl through my archive and select my personal favourite photographs from 2012. I can safely say, all in all, that I feel my work has once again improved upon the year before. It's always a very theraputic, yet time consuming exercise. I often find myself getting in a bit of a creative fug at the beginning of a new year, so I find this an extremely valuable lesson.

Click on an image to view the lightbox with my comments.

If you'd like to do your own comparison, here are the similar post from 2011 & 2010

Have you compiled your favourites from last year? Feel free links to them in the comments below.

Do you have any particular favourites from my selections above?

What I learned from my failed LRPS Panel by Neil Alexander

Firstly, I have to preface this with the fact that I'd been so busy with marketing, networking and actually trying to build my photography business that my LRPS date had completely slipped my mind. It was only when I checked my diary and made a call that I realised I was too late to submit prints. If I wanted to be considered for this particular date it would have to be digital submissions, or wait for the next available slot in about 6 months.

So I figured what the heck. Nothing ventured, nothing gained right? Whilst trying to make my selections, I was already rueing a day's lost work making the 7 or 8 hour journey down to Bath and back, so I really needed to make a focussed, yet quick selection and get it over to them. On my initial application, I had selected that I was going to submit prints, and so it was my intention to print these myself and then get them mounted, but  I'd missed that window. The Royal Photographic Society highly recommend that you go on one of their Distinctions Advisory days, and get some advice on your proposed submissions, but this I didn't do because the only one in my area before my panel date was all booked up. I could have travelled to Newark, Bath or London I suppose, to go on one in another area had I got myself organised in time.

After great deliberation, and some extremely useful input from my fellow tweeters, the 10 images below ended up being my final selection.

[caption id="attachment_18832" align="aligncenter" width="590"]Neil Alexander LRPS Panel - layout Neil Alexander LRPS Panel - layout[/caption]

On the day of the assessment itself, I headed out the door just after 7am for the 3 hour drive down to Bath, only to get held up in roadworks outside Birmingham for over an hour. When I finally made it to the RPS office in Bath (which was incidentally a little of a disappointment - I was expecting a grandiose piece of architecture, not some mid 90's mews style bland, run of the mill type office), I was late, by around 45 minutes. I quietly tiptoed my way into the presentation room, only to learn from a fellow submitter that I had just missed mine, and that I had not been successful. I was gutted. I didn't have the heart nor the energy to simply up sticks, and jump back in the car so I stuck around and watched the other panels until lunchtime. There were only 4 digital submissions in total, none of which passed. Digital images are displayed on a screen a via a colour corrected projector at around 4 to 5 feet wide showing any potential flaws up to the judges. Prints on the other hand are obviously presented on a much smaller scale, and of the print submissions that I saw, I would estimate that the pass rate was around the 50% mark. Another advantage of prints over digital is that whilst the digital images are projected one at a time, the prints are all displayed on the wall together allowing the judges to get a bet overall impression of the photographer's ability.

And so to my image selection - why did I choose those images?

I poured over the successful panels on the RPS website and decided that whilst some photographers had successfully submitted images on a variety of different topics, I wanted to show a more cohesive body of work. As a result I specifically picked images that I felt represented my strongest area, landscape and travel photography. With hindsight image number 7 probably doesn't fit very well, and the judges highlighted this. The other reasons they gave were that there was a loss of highlight detail in the water on my waterfalls on images 3 and 8 and a loss in shadow detail on 6 and 9 which they also felt were over manipulated. Unfortunately there is no opportunity to enter a dialog with the judges, it's simply pass or fail. End of. This is the only arena in which I can get across my perspective, so I'm going to take full advantage of it! It's my party, and I'll cry if I want to...... In the images of the waterfall, there is no highlight clipping whatsoever - my histograms clip at neither end, and it was a conscious decision to make the water as silky smooth as I possibly could. That's just the way I like it, and pretty much every time I use a neutral density filter to shoot water I go the same way. In image 6 of the signpost in the snow, they are correct in their observation that there is some shadow clipping. In fact there is a lot, all along the wall. Again, this was a conscious decision, although this time in post processing. I like the way that the dark of the stones is at stark contrast with the sprinkling of snow. And as for number 9, well yes, I have leant on this quite heavily but again, it was a conscious decision. The scene was dramatic. The ruins were epic, and there was a storm rolling in over the back. It was just beginning to rain. The sky was very moody, and I wanted my processing to reflect all that.

So what did I learn?

Well quite simply that beauty is in the eye of the beholder, that everyone's artistic take on things is slightly different, and that most probably my technique is a little at odds with what the Royal Photographic Society would deem perfect. And now that the dust has settled, am I overly concerned? Not particularly. The accreditation would have been nice, but quite frankly all the letters in the world after my name couldn't beat the feeling of providing another satisfied client with photographs they are over the moon with, happily handing over payment and then recommending me to others. Actually I want to scratch the first point of this paragraph, and use a Dean Collins-ism and replace it with "Beauty is in the eye of the cheque book holder". As a working photographer, my opinion is that never a truer word was spoken.


Good Friday Easter parade, Zejtun - the details by Neil Alexander

In last weeks entry, I posted some images from my most recent trip to Malta over Easter, and I promised that I'd go into shooting the procession in a little more detail. So here goes...  

A Roman centurion on his way to the parade

To start with, I'd been planning this for some time. I'd gathered from quite a bit of research that the Good Friday procession in Zejtun is one of the best of the Easter parades in Malta.

I'm not a particularly religious person myself, if at all, but the Maltese are steeped in their Roman Catholic traditions, and the background of the island reads like a Who's Who of European history. From the Romans to the Moors, and the British empire to the blanket carpet bombing by the Germans in the second World War. The island has been through it all, and this is reflected in the culture. The Catholic church however plays a very dominant role. In each town or village you will find at least one church belonging to a particular saint, and the Maltese people spend half the year celebrating these saints, especially in the summer months when every weekend there is at least one festival or another taking place somewhere in one of the towns or villages. These generally involve the whole town, huge feasts and firework displays of the like you have never seen. One of the highlights of each town's  calendar is the Good Friday procession, and Zejtun in particular is the place to be for this.

Characters from the Bible as part of the Good Friday parade in Zejtun, Malta

I arrived in the town a couple of hours before the parade was due to start with the intention of scoping out the route and working out where the best vantage points were going to be. I wanted to have a couple of options minimum in my pocket, and as the procession was scheduled to last for at least two hours I wanted a few different scenes or locations in which to shoot it. I milled around for a while walking the route, and shooting a little background. At the same time I got chatting to a few of the local policeman with a view to getting my face known and trying to get on their friendly side in the event that for whatever reason it should all go wrong and I either needed their help, or at least needed them not to hinder me whilst I was trying to work.

Silhouette of Jesus Christ with a crown of thorns as part of the Good Friday Easter parade Zejtun, Malta

About an hour before the procession was due to start, the crowds began to gather and I found a great spot directly opposite the main entrance to St. Catherine's church from where the procession would walk towards me for about 10 yards and then turn and began it's meander round the streets. I decided that this was going to be the spot from which I would begin my coverage and "marked" my spot. As 5 o'clock grew nearer, the square got more and more congested, but I still had an unobstructed view of the doorway. Then the tv crews arrived and a bunch of little old ladies barged their way in infront of me. I couldn't really begrudge the women the space as they were really quite small and there was no way they were going to see from anywhere else. The tv crew were a different story altogether. They had erected a rather flimsy 12 foot high gantry about 10 feet to my left on a very busy corner forcing people to squeeze between it and a crash barrier in front of which people were already congregated.  This brought about a great deal of needless jostling and a torrent of abuse from the cameraman up top every time someone knocked into the gantry. But the rather overweight camera man who was up in front of the church doors continually thrusting his camera into every parade members' face getting into every shot I tried to make was a right royal pain in the ass. I appreciate that he was only trying to do his job, but he made it extremely hard work for us still shooters.

The Figure represents one of the two Thieves who were crucified together with Christ

Once the parade began I had to work really hard continually composing and re-composing to avoid getting him in any of my shots. It was working but standing on the same spot for 2 hours solidly continually waving around a 70-200 2.8 got awfully wearing after a while. I then decided it was time to move out and find another scene or two. Easier said than done. I was trapped. The crowd was so dense that even if I'd needed to, I couldn't have gotten out. I had to bide my time until there was a short lull in the proceedings, and make a break for it. Laden up with a Lowepro rucksack, tripod and two bodies didn't exactly make for an easy squeeze through the crowd and I'm sure that I must have duffed at least two or three people on the head with my tripod by accident.

A particularly mean looking Roman Centurion

Eventually I got out. Once I'd managed to get the blood circulating in my legs again, I dashed off to the other side of town and shot some of the procession as it meandered through the quaint narrow streets.

The procession itself is quite a sombre slow moving affair consisting of many biblical characters. Roman soldiers feature heavily as do statues that represent the final hours of Jesus Christ before he was crucified. The detail that goes into the costumes is phenomenal especially the Roman Centurions. They really were incredible. As was the length of the procession. I'd estimate that there were probably around 500 people involved and it must have been over a mile long.

The Passion of Our Lord Jesus Christ banner leaving St. Catherines church as part of the Good Friday parade Zejtun Malta complete with TV cameraman

I would have loved to have been able to stick around longer and capture some of the procession once the sun had gone down, but alas it was not to be. All in all a very worthwhile trip though and a must see if you're ever over in Malta at Easter.

The weediest looking Roman centurion Ive ever seen

A Roman centurion sending a text message on his way to the parade with his sons